What can prison population statistics tell us about Crime Control in the UK? Is Prison an effective strategy for controlling crime?
These are questions that should be of interest to any student studying the Crime and Deviance option within A-level sociology.
Scotland, England and Wales have high prison populations
In England and Wales we lock up 40% more people than in France and almost twice as many people as they do in Germany, which are broadly comparable countries.
Yet there is no link between the prison population and levels of crime
England and wales have seen a rising prison population and a rising then a rapidly falling crime rate
Finland has seen a declining prison population and a rising and then a gradually declining crime rate.
Canada has seen a broadly level prison population and yet a relatively stable crime rate.
Most people are serving short sentences for non-violent offences
Nearly 70% of the prison population are in for non-violent offences – which means that 30% are in for violent offences. In those prisons where the two populations are mixed, this must be awful for some of those non-violent offenders.
People are getting sentenced for longer
I’m not sure what’s underlying this rise in more serious offences …. the most obvious long-sentence crime of murder has decreased in recent years, so maybe this is for violent gang related and terrorist related crimes which involve in harm rather than death ? Something to research further!
Does Prison work?
In short, if controlling crime is what you hope to achieve, then no it doesn’t because nearly 50% of those sent to prison are recalled within 1 year of being released.
However, there are more reasons why you might want to lock people up other than just rehabilitating them and preventing future offending – there is an argument that they just deserve to be punished whether they reoffend or not.
How do community service orders and suspended sentences compare to prison?
it seems that both of these are more effective at preventing reoffending, but the difference isn’t that great:
63% of people who serve sentences of less than 12 months reoffend compared to
56% of those who receive community orders and compared to
54% of those who receive suspended sentences.
HOWEVER, this may be due to the fact that those avoiding jail have different circumstances and/ or different characters to those who do go to jail – they might just be the kinds of people less likely to reoffend already!
Overall these prison statistics suggest that while we like to lock people up in England and Wales, there is little evidence that doing so prevents crime.
Maybe we should be looking for cheaper and more effective solutions – such as early intervention (initially expensive but cheaper than several years in and out of jail), or public shaming for example?
The easy answer is to say around 22% of the population, roughly 14 million people. The long answer starts with the sentence ‘it depends on how you define and measure poverty’, in which case you get various different statistics on the poverty rate.
22% of the UK population are in poverty, equivalent to 14.2 million people: 8.4 million working-age adults; 4.5 million children; and 1.4 million pension age adults. Source: The Social Metrics Foundation, 2018.
1% of the total UK population (7. 7 million people) live in persistent poverty. Source: The Social Metrics Foundation, 2018.
This definition of poverty is broader than any previous definition because:
It takes account of all material resources not just incomes. For instance, this means including an assessment of the available assets that families have; •
It takes into accounts the inescapable costs that some families face, which make them more likely than others to experience poverty, such as the extra costs of disability, and costs of childcare and rental and mortgage costs; •
It automatically defines anyone who is ‘sleeping rough’ as being in poverty.
However, it also sets the relative poverty line at 55% of median income rather than 60^ of median income (as the government has done for many years), seemingly because to keep it at 60% while making all of the other changes above would put too many people in poverty?!? See page 63 of the report for more details:
According to the Government’s own data:
16% of UK households were in relative low income households (before housing costs)
22% of UK households were in relative low income households (after housing costs).
Relative low income households have an income of less than 60% of median household income (equivalised), which is equivalent to £296 per week (or approximately £1000 per month). Source: Households Below Average Income, published March 2018.
7.3% of the UK population (4.6 million people) are in persistent poverty. This study defines ‘persistent poverty as being in a relative low income household (using the BHAI definition of this) consistently for 3 years. Source: Persistent Poverty in the UK and the EU: 2015.
Which of these is the most valid measurement of poverty?
You’ll notice that there’s some different between these figures, especially between the Social Metric Commissions’ persistent poverty rate and the ONS’ poverty rate – 12% compared to 7%, so it really matters which of these is the most valid!
Given that the Social Metrics Commission’s definition was agreed by a large panel of people, which included government representation, I’m going to say the SMC’s definition/ measurement is the most valid.
The relationship between social class and religion is not straightforward: the middle classes are, in general, more likely to attend church, but they are also less likely to believe in God and more likely to be atheists and join both world affirming and world rejecting NRMs.
The working classes are less likely to attend church, yet more likely to believe in God than the middle classes. There are also certain denominations and even sects which might appeal specifically to the working classes: such as Methodism, for example.
Church attendance and social class
The ‘middle classes’ have higher rates of church attendance than the ‘working classes’
A 2015 YouGov survey of 7000 adults found that 62% of regular church goers were middle class and 38% working class.
The same 2015 survey found that twice as many married working class men had never attended church compared to middle class men (17% compared to 9%).
Voas and Watt (2014) conducted research on behalf of the Church of England and made three observations not directly about social class, but relevant to it. Firstly, church attendance is higher in rural areas compared to urban areas. Secondly, church attendance is higher in the South of England compared to the North. Thirdly, they noted growth in church attendance in areas which had high performing church primary and secondary schools. All of these indicators suggest higher church attendance in middle class compared to working class areas.
Ashworth and Farthing (2007) found that, for both sexes, those in middle class jobs had above average levels of church attendance. Conversely, those in skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled working class jobs had below average church attendance. Welfare recipients had the lowest levels of church attendance.
Religious belief and social class
A 2016 YouGov Survey revealed that 48% of those in social grades ABC1 described themselves as ‘Atheist’ compared to 42% of those in social grades C2ED.
A 2013 review of >60 research studies on the relationship between IQ and religiosity found that people with higher IQs are more likely to be atheists. (High IQs are correlated with higher levels of education and higher social class).
Lawes (2009) found that ‘lifelong theists’ disproportionately come from unskilled and semi-skilled manual backgrounds, and were less likely to have academic qualifications. Conversely, lifelong atheists disproportionately come from higher professional and managerial backgrounds, and are more likely to have experienced higher education.
NB – It’s worth noting how this contradicts what’s above in terms of church attendance
Social class, religion and deprivation
There is some evidence that those suffering deprivation (the lower social classes) are more likely to turn to religion…..
Churches in deprived inner city areas tend to have higher rates of attendance.
Methodist, Pentacostal and Baptist denominations tend to be more working class.
Catholic Churches are more likely to attract Irish, Polish and African immigrants who have typically experienced higher levels of deprivation.
New Religious Movements and social class
As a general rule, the middle classes are more attracted to both World Affirming NRMs (and the New Age Movement), and World Rejecting NRMs, at least according to Eileen Barker’s classic study of ‘The Moonies’.
Problems with identifying the relationship between religion and social class
Andrew Mckinnon notes that there has been a ‘dearth’ of research on the relationship between religion and social class, meaning there is something of a data gap.
Because of the above, we are often stuck with relying on indicators which might not actually measure social class.
Even if the data suggests that church attendance and belief are higher among the middle classes, this doesn’t necessarily mean the middle classes are actually more religious. They may just be attending church to keep up appearances or to get their children into the local church school (which tend to have high academic performance); or they may feel under more social pressure to state they are religious than the working classes
Chapman et al, as well as the good ole’ t’internet.
The new ‘safe’ level of alcohol consumption should be none, at least according to a recent study into the health risks of alcohol published by the The Lancet.
This contradicts the current official government guidelines on the ‘safe’ level of drinking: currently around 14 units per week for women, and 21 for men.
The findings of this research study were widely reported in the mainstream media:
The Daily Mail reported that ‘just one glass of wine a day increases your risk of various cancers’.
Even The Independent reported that ‘the idea that one or two drinks a day is good for you is a myth’.
But what are the actual statistical risks of different levels of alcohol consumption?
The actual risk of developing a drink related alcohol problem for different levels of drinking are as follows:
No drinks a day = 914/ 100 000 people
One drink a day = 918/ 100 000 people
Two drinks a day = 977/ 100 000 people
I took the liberty of putting this into graph form to illustrate the relative risks: blue shows the proportion of people who will develop alcohol related problems!
This means that statistically, there is only a 0.5 % greater risk of developing an alcohol related illness if you have one drink a day compared to no drinks, which hardly sounds significant!
Meanwhile, there is a greater increase in risk if you have two compared to 1 drink a day, which suggests the government guidelines have got this about right!
(NB, despite the headlines, The BBC and Sky did a reasonable job of reporting the actual stats!)
So why did some news papers report these findings in a limited way?
This could be a classic example of News Values determining how an event gets reported: it’s much more shocking to report that the government has got its advice wrong and that really there is no safe level of drinking!
Or it could be that these newspapers feel as though they’ve got a social policy duty to the general public… even if there is only a slight increased risk from alcohol consumption, maybe they feel duty bound to report it in such a way to nudge behaviour in a more healthy direction.
In terms of why some newspapers did a better job of reporting the actual findings: it could be that these are the papers who rely on advertising revenue from drinks companies? Maybe the Mail and the Independent don’t get paid by drinks companies, whereas Sky does>?
This post will also be published to the steem blockchain: where you can get rewarded in crypto currency for posting, liking, commenting and so on!
Secularization is the declining social significance of religion in society.
The extent of secularization is usually ascertained (for the purposes of A-level sociology) by using three broad indicators: belonging, behaving, and belief, and there are numerous specific measures associated with each indicator.
This post aims to provide brief revision notes on some of the contemporary evidence for secularization.
Evidence for secularization: statistics on religious belonging
According to a recent British Social Attitudes Survey (1) based on a sample of just under 3000 respondents (conducted 2016, published 2017):
Only 15% of UK adults describe themselves as ‘Anglican’, compared to around 33% of the population at the turn of the century and more than 60% in the early 1960s (1)
Just 3% of those aged 18-24 described themselves as Anglican, compared to 40% of those aged 75 and over (1).
53% of UK adults describe themselves as having ‘no religion’, up from 31% in 1983 (1)
71% of 18-24 year olds describe themselves as having ‘no religion’ up from
According to the United Kingdom Census of 2011 (3), which is based on a near 100% sample of the UK population:
59.3% of the population reported to be Christian, down from 71.7 per cent in 2001 to 59.3 per cent in 2011, and
25.1% of the population reported having ‘no religion’, up from 14.8 per cent of the population in 2001.
There was an increase in all other main religions. The number of Muslims increased the most from 3.0 per cent in 2001 to 4.8 per cent in 2011.
NB – This final piece of evidence: the increasing reported popularity of all other religions besides Christianity cannot really be taken as evidence against secularization because the overall increase of all these other religions is smaller than the increase in the number of people reporting ‘no religion’ in the same period. It does, however, suggest increasing religious diversity.
Evidence for secularization: statistics on religious behaviour
According to the Church of England’s own data (4), both church attendance and attendance at ‘hatching, matching and dispatching’ (baptism/ marriage/ funeral) ceremonies are falling.
The 2016 figures show:
Usual Sunday attendance at Church of England churches in 2016 was 740,000 people (86% adults, 14% children under 16).
There were 120,000 Church of England baptisms and services of thanksgiving for the gift of a child – representing 10% of live births.
There were 45,000 Church of England marriages and services of prayer and dedication after civil marriages – just 20% of marriages.
There were 139,000 Church of England-led funerals during 2016, 57% of which took place in churches and 43% at crematoria/cemeteries – 28% of funerals. The higher percentage probably reflects the greater proclivity for people near death to ‘find’ ‘comfort’ in ‘religion’.
The church of England notes that most of its headline indicators show a decline of 10-15% over the last decade, since 2006.
Evidence for Secularization: Statistics on Religious Belief
Religious belief is a notoriously subjective concept: while the statistics in the first section above suggest secularization is taking place, it is possible to declare that you belong to ‘no religion’ while still having religious beliefs, so we need to dig a little deeper into the exact nature of individuals’ spiritual beliefs in order to properly assess whether secularization is taking place.
When we do this, most of the evidence suggests that secularization is occurring, although possibly not as quickly as the decline in support for traditional religion would suggests.
A 2015 YouGov poll revealed that 33% of Britons ‘do not believe in God or a higher spiritual power’, up from 29% in 2012.
The same poll revealed that younger people are more likely to not believe in any type of higher power compared to older people – only 25% of 18-24 year olds believe in God or some other kind of higher power compared to over 40% of over 60 year olds.
The latest crime figures show an increase in the overall number of crimes committed in England and Wales, for the year ending March 2018. The overall numbers of crimes have increased from approximately 5.8 million in 2016-17 to 6 million crimes in 2017-18 (excluding ‘computer misuse’).
While this may seem like a relatively small increase, this follows a 7 year downward trend in the overall crime rate. And if we drill down into different types of crime, we find that some crime categories have seen dramatic rises in recent years: Robbery is up 30%, and knife crime is up 16% for example.
These figures are taken from the Crime Survey of England and Wales, a victim survey which is widely regarded as having greater validity as a measure of crime compared to Police Recorded Crime Statistics.
As you might expect, the mainstream newspapers have been all over this. Typically the press blames the move away from more authoritarian forms of crime control associated with Right Realism and blames soft-touch Left Realist style policies for the increase in crime.
The Daily Mail has recently reported on how rural crime, as well as urban crime is spiraling out of control. The Sunday Telegraph has blamed the government’s ‘too soft’ approach to crime control, which focuses on rehabilitation rather than punishment. The Independent commented that the Tories might be blame for this increase in crime because they have cut funding to the police, resulting in fewer officers.
However, the theory that ‘soft touch’ approaches and fewer police officers may well be insufficient to explain why crime is increasing. For example, police numbers have been going down for years, while crime has also been going down:
The truth is probably more complex: it might just be that there are different causes of crime in different areas, and different causes of different crimes…. so perhaps we should steer clear of over-generalizing!
Here’s a print version of the stats in case the above isn’t that legible! (If it’s not, I might try and sort it out laters!).
What’s particularly encouraging about this is that this in the context of declining numbers of 17-18 year olds in the corresponding birth years stretching from 1996-2000, and the corresponding decrease in overall A-level entries.
It’s also interesting to note that more traditional subjects such as History and English are losing out to ‘newer’ more critical subjects such as Sociology. Psychology also saw a similar trend.
In brief, 22% of the UK population, or 13.9 million people live in poverty in the UK (2016). Poverty rates are higher for lone parent households (46%), disabled households (34), and rates also vary significantly by ethnicity (e.g. the Bangladeshi poverty rate = 50%).
Below is a summary of the latest statistics on the characteristics of those living in poverty in the UK. NB These are the latest stats I could find which have been comprehensively analysed by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, based on their 2017: Poverty in the UK report.
If you can’t see the above chart online (it’s designed to be downloaded and printed off in A3) the it’s all replicated below!
Basic Poverty in the UK Statistics
A total of 13.9 million people lived in poverty in the UK in 2015-16, or 22% of people live below the poverty line, 30% children, and 18% of pensioners. However, there is significant variation between the proportion of working age adults, pensioners and children living in poverty.
What is Poverty?
Relative poverty: the stats in the JRF report summarised here mainly show ‘relative poverty’: when a family has an income of less than 60% of median income for their family type, after housing costs.
A related measure is persistent poverty which is when a person is currently in poverty and has been in poverty for at least two of the three preceding years.
For more details for different ways of defining and measuring poverty please see this post: What is poverty?
Poverty rates by household type
46% of lone parent households are in poverty, twice as many as all other household types.
The ‘poverty line’ varies by household type:
Family type £ per week, equivalised,
Couple with no children = £248
Single with no children = £144
Couple with two children* = £401
Single with two children* = £297
*aged 5 to 14
Poverty varies most significantly by disability
In 2016 34% of working-age adults in families with disabled members lived in poverty, compared with 17% of those who did not.
Poverty also varies by ethnicity
Approx. 2016 rates for working age adults Bangladeshi – 50%, Pakistani – 45%, Black British 37%, White – 19%.
Find out more…
There are other variations in poverty highlighted by the JRF report (link above), I’ve just selected the main ‘in focus’ trends as things stand in 2017.
NB on the ‘data lag’ – that’s just one of the problems of Official Statistics more generally – most of the data above has been analysed from various different types of government stats, which are already a year out of data before the ONS publishes them, then you have wait further for the JRF summary. If you want the 2018 stats, you’ll just have to wait til 2019!
If you like this sort of thing, then you might also like my previous post on ‘Poverty Trends’ in the UK, which looks at how poverty rates changed between 1996 and 2016.
The UK has seen significant falls in poverty over the last 20 years, HOWEVER, this progress is now at risk of reversing as poverty rates have been increasing in recent years. This blog posts summarizes the 20 year trend in UK Poverty according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s 2017 Poverty Report. Specifically it looks at:
The overall 20 year trend in UK poverty
poverty among pensioners and children
Three drivers of the reduction in poverty rates
Three threats to the continued reduction in poverty rates
NB I’m using the same information from the report, but I’ve changed the order in which it’s reported and summarized it down further. Personally I think my version is much more immediately accessible to your ‘non-expert’: IMO the ‘JRF have a tendency to ‘over-report’ reams of nuanced data, and the overall picture just gets lost. The detail’s important if you’re a policy wonk, but probably going to get lost on the average, interested member of the general public.
Before reading this post you might like to check out my ‘what is poverty?‘ post which covers the basic definition of some of the terms used below.
The overall 20 year trend in UK poverty….the fall and rise of UK poverty rates
20 years ago, in 1996, nearly a quarter (24%) of the UK’s population lived in poverty. By 2004, this had fallen to one in five (20%) of the population. However, by 2016, the proportion had risen slightly to 22%.
*Relative poverty is when a family has an income of less than 60% of median income for their family type, after housing costs.
Children and pensioners living in poverty
As the chart above clearly shows, the biggest success stories in the long term reduction in poverty over the last 20 years are the numbers of pensioners who have been taken out of poverty and (to a lesser extent) the number of children.. As the chart above shows:
In 1995, 28% of pensioners lived in poverty, falling to 13% in 2012, but rising to 16% by 2016.
In 1995, a third of children lived in poverty, falling to 27% in 2012, but rising to 30% in 2016
However, during that time the proportion of working age couples without children in poverty actually grew slightly, from 16% to 18%.
Factors correlated with falling poverty rates
The report notes three main factors which are mainly responsible for this long term overall decline in poverty:
Rising employment, linked with higher wages due to the minimum wage, and better education.
Increased support through benefits, especially the increase in the state pension age, but also out of work benefits for working age people with children
Housing benefit and increased home ownership containing the impact of rising rents.
Factors explaining the long term decrease of UK Poverty in more depth
It seems that the main drivers behind the long-term decrease in poverty in the UK are the ‘positive’ economic factors such as improvements in the employment rate, pay and conditions, rather than increases to benefits.
Below I select what appear to be the five most import factors from the report which explain the long term decrease in poverty.
The increase in the state pension
The most significant reduction in poverty has been achieved with pensioners, and according to the JRF report, the main reason for this was a one off increase in the state pension at the beginning of the century:
NB – there is a lot of variation in pensioner income, which I may explore in a future post…
The employment rate has increase from around 71% in 1996 to around 75% in 2016…
NB – while you are statistically more likely to be in poverty if you’re not in-work, being employed it itself is not sufficient to avoid being in poverty. Both the introduction of the minimum wage, and changes to in work benefits for lone parents have been essential to making sure that a higher proportion of people in employment are also not officially in poverty. While work today is more likely to lift you out of poverty than in 1996, it remains the case that a large percentage of those in poverty are in-work (typically in part-time jobs).
Earnings are up for people with all levels of qualifications…
Obviously higher earnings are more likely to lift people out of poverty, HOWEVER, at the bottom end of the income earning scale, and especially for those with children and in part-time jobs, the increasing cost of living, especially rent (but also childcare and even food and utilities) has negated much of the above increase in wages, hence why government support in the form of child tax credits and housing benefit remains important.
The number of people with degrees has nearly trebled in this period: from around 12% of the UK population to over 30%
Those with degrees earn approximately twice the amount of those with no qualifications, so it would seem that New Labour’s focus on ‘education, education, education‘, and their push to get more people into higher education has had a positive impact in poverty reduction. However, with the introduction of tuition fees and with increasing competition for highly skilled jobs coming from abroad, it’s not clear that this trend (of more and more people getting degrees) is set to continue.
The introduction of the national minimum wage has resulted in a 46% relative pay increase for the poorest 10%, compared to a 40% median national increase
Both the introduction of the minimum wage and its subsequent increases seem to have been one of the most important factors in tackling in-work poverty. However, even with the minimum wage, a possible future barrier to further poverty reduction lies in the growth of precarious jobs leading to ‘underemployment’ – where people get too few hours to earn a decent living. For more on this, see my summary of the RSA’s report on ‘Future Work in the UK‘.
The increase in out of work benefits for people with children
Basically, there has a been a very slight long-term increase in out of work benefits for people with children, who are now slightly better off than 20 years ago, while poor people without children have seen no change, or are slightly worse off.
I guess this leads to an overall reduction in the poverty rate simply because there are more people per family household rather than just couple or single person household.
You can see from the above chart, that lone parents claiming JSA and child benefits were briefly lifted to 60% of median income (just on the poverty line) – sufficient to take them out of poverty, however, you can also see that benefits are again being cut back, so we can probably expect poverty rates to increase again in the future!
And one factor which doesn’t seem to explain the overall reduction in poverty… changes to in-work benefits…
With the exception of single parents who are better off over a twenty year period, every other household type seems to be worse off! Thus I can’t see how this variable would explain the long term decrease in UK poverty.
Potential barriers to further reductions in poverty
All three of the main drivers of poverty reduction mentioned above are now under question:
The continued rise in employment is no longer reducing poverty.
State support for low-income families is falling in real terms, and negates the gains made by increasing employment and wages.
Rising rents, less help for low-income renters and falling home ownership leave more people struggling to meet the cost of housing.